March 24 – July 16, 2017
FORUM 042: Alessandra Schellnegger – Insights. Getting behind the walls of the BND in Pullach

Alessandra Schellnegger‘s collection of photos provides the prologue to the “No secrets! – Images of surveillance” exhibition. It offers insights into the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) facility at Pullach shortly before its move to Berlin.

For decades, the strictly no-access BND compound was officially classified as belonging to the “Federal Property Administration, Special Assets Department, Pullach Branch” to keep nearby residents from suspecting the truth – that behind the four-kilometer ring of walls and metal railings, German spies were going about their everyday business.

It came as a real stroke of luck when, after a long wait, Munich photographer Alessandra Schellnegger finally gained access to the BND’s Pullach facility in 2013 to do some work for the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. For the BND to let someone take a look behind the scenes like this was quite unprecedented. It was only because the organization was planning to move its headquarters from Pullach to the German capital that she got the chance to give the public a brief glimpse inside the workplace of the nation’s intelligence officers. Schellnegger photo series shows seemingly abandoned buildings and the facility’s architecture that give the curious impression of belonging to a bygone age. Her shots of the compound convey its museum-like quality, with rickety, dilapidated huts, conference rooms bearing affectionate names like “Alter Fritz” and walls hung with paintings by the “Princes of Painters” such as Franz von Lenbach.

The Pullach complex has undergone numerous metamorphoses over the years. It had been a department of the Army High Command under the Nazis. At one time, the site had even been commandeered by the Nazis to build a model housing complex for the Party elite known as the “Reichssiedlung Rudolf Heß”, together with the “Führer Headquarters Siegfried”, an official headquarters used by Adolf Hitler and other Nazi officials. In 1947, it became home to the Gehlen Organization, the Nazi’s former “Foreign Armies East” department, which re-emerged as an US-controlled espionage network after the Second World War. 

Alessandra Schellnegger: Entry point, from the “Insights. Getting behind the walls of the BND in Pullach” series, 2013 © Alessandra Schellnegger
Alessandra Schellnegger: Shooting range, from the “Insights. Getting behind the walls of the BND in Pullach” series, 2013 © Alessandra Schellnegger
Alessandra Schellnegger: Shacks, from the “Insights. Getting behind the walls of the BND in Pullach” series, 2013 © Alessandra Schellnegger
Alessandra Schellnegger: Archive room, from the “Insights. Getting behind the walls of the BND in Pullach” series, 2013 © Alessandra Schellnegger

Schellnegger has a keen eye for absurdity, and has created photographic records that not only reveal the historical inconsistencies and continuities that lie behind these events but also tell us something about how a Western power saw itself in the 20th century. In 2015 her work was a winning entry in the Frankfurter Kunstverein’s Eagle-Eye Photo Contest.

Biography

Born in 1974, Allessandra Schellnegger trained as an interior designer before qualifying in photo design at the Berlin Lette-Verein in 2005. Since then, she has worked as a freelance photographer for clients such as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and is represented by the “FOCUS” agency. Creatively, her work follows the documentary aesthetic of reportage photography, and this influence can also be seen in her portraits of artists, politicians and actors. In 2014, she won the Martin Lagois Photo Prize for her “Das Bürohaus Gottes” (God’s Office Block) series of portraits of different religious communities whose churches are all housed in the same building. Two six-month visits to Israel culminated in the creation of the “Israel Diary” free series, in which the photographer captures and documents the country’s different facets in a deeply personal manner. This series depicts everyday life and religious scenes in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the troubled and politically charged areas around the West Bank Barrier, the wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians. Other photo-reportages from Israel and the West Bank have appeared in newspapers such as “Die ZEIT” and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and in various magazines. In 2015, she accompanied author Dimitrij Kapitelman on a journey through Israel that is recounted in his book “Das Lächeln meines unsichtbaren Vaters” (The Smile of My Invisible Father), published by Hanser. She lives and works in Munich.